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Archive for the ‘local food’ Category

On Saturday night we had “fake Valentine’s Day” here at our house. We had company last weekend and Robert and I spent a good part of the week bickering, so we designated Saturday for a nice dinner together. I decided to do my pork belly experiment because, hey, we love pig fat. It was a reasonably successful attempt, but not exactly right. I have to work on it a little more. Any dish that comes to me in a dream deserves a few attempts at perfection.

If you recall from my last post, I dreamed about pork belly that was braised in pear eau de vie. I did find the eau de vie, but wow, it was pricey. The one kind that was a true dry style was $43 a bottle. I just couldn’t do it. I ended up buying a bottle of sweet pear liqueur made in Portland. It was also expensive, but it came in smaller bottles and looked like something I would want to drink if nothing else. Braising in this costly liquid was out so I had to come up with another plan. I ended up browning the meat and some aromatic vegetables and then cooking it in a combination of chicken broth and white wine. I stuck the whole thing in the oven at 350 degrees and cooked it for about 3 1/2 hours.

raw pork belly

ready to go into the oven

When it came out it was falling apart and had given up a lot of the fat.  I removed the meat and strained the cooking juices into my gravy separator to get out most of the fat. I added some pear cider to the juices and then reduced them to a syrupy sauce.  I cut the meat into four pieces and rolled them around in the sauce and put them back in the oven at 425 degrees to crisp up.  I think that the meat would have benefited greatly from a 24 hour brining or a dry rub, something to cure it a little bit.  I think some salt, sugar, cloves and black pepper would make a really good dry rub for this meat.  But anyhow…

I decided to serve the pork with blue cheese polenta, kale with shallots and toasted hazelnuts, and roasted pears.  The roasted pears were maybe the best part of the dinner and also the most dangerous.  I cut them into quarters and brushed them with a healthy amount (I guess I should say a not-so-healthy amount) of melted butter.  I stuck them in the oven at 425 with the pork to cook.  They weren’t browning a much as I wanted, so when the pork was done I put them under the broiler.  I also poured in some of my tasty pear liqueur.  This is when things got exciting.  I was busy, stirring polenta, checking the greens, just the general puttering that goes on just before you sit down to eat, when I heard a WHOOSH! in the oven and the door banged open and then shut again.  I looked in and there were big blue flames.  Lots of big blue flames.  I hadn’t even thought that the alcohol in the liqueur could catch fire from the broiler, but it did.  It was a lucky mistake though, the pears were divine and I didn’t even singe my eyebrows off.  Here’s the final product:

Fake Valentine's Dinner

All in all I give it a 7.8.  I put too much blue cheese in the polenta, and I will try a few other things with the pork next time.   But it’s worth trying again (and again).  Pork belly is just uncured bacon after all.

Side note: Sunday night I made a tasty carbonara pasta with the leftover pork.  Eggs, cheese, belly of pig, a few cherry tomatoes and some fresh basil.  Easy and pretty darn good.

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I have a skinny husband. As a cook I feel ashamed of this. I do feed him, I really do, but he stays skinny. And recently he has lost some weight. It probably has something to do with how very hard he is working to get our new house finished, but in any case he can’t afford to lose weight. When he told me that he has had to punch a third new hole in his belt, just so his pants will stay up, I decided it was time to do something. So now I am on a mission to put some meat on his bony body and it’s pretty fun. I love thinking up ways to get more calories into something instead of less. The problem of course is that I do not need fattening up. I have been making Robert a special extra creamy Ovaltine drink every evening and even though I am not drinking it I can feel my body reacting like I am. It seems that the act of cooking up something decadent is the same as eating it. Not fair. (By the way, have you had Ovaltine lately? It’s pretty darn good. Especially if you make it with hazelnut milk instead of regular milk and you add a couple tablespoons of cream to your cup. But I’m not drinking it, I just had a sip, I swear.)

I made a great quiche the other night in my effort to plump Robert up. Quiche by nature is pretty rich so I don’t make it that often, but it sounded like a good thing for him to take in his lunch. And it sounded pretty good for dinner too. I have a recipe that came from a teacher I had in cooking school that calls for six eggs and a pint, yes a pint, of cream per nine inch quiche. It’s very good that way, oh yes, and great for a treat, but I usually use half milk and half cream and it’s perfectly acceptable. I put in some delicious leeks that I got from my friend Lauren who works at Wobbly Cart Farm, a few stray leaves of chard, and some good gruyere cheese. Here is the un-recipe.

Leek and Gruyere Quiche

1 recipe of pie dough (I like to use half whole wheat flour when making quiche, but it’s up to you.)

6 eggs

2 cups cream or a combination of cream and milk

a little freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper (white pepper is especially good here)

olive oil

2-3 leeks, depending on the size

a little fresh or dried thyme

1 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

Roll out your pie crust, put it in your dish and crimp the edge. I like to blind bake (pre-cook) my crust so that it is nice and crisp. Line the inside of the crust with parchment paper and put in a cup or so of dried beans and then bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Carefully lift out the parchment and beans and continue to bake it for another 10 minutes or until it starts to get brown. Make sure you keep an eye on the crust during the last part of the cooking to make sure it isn’t puffing up. If it does, just pat it down gently or poke a little hole in it with a fork.

While the crust is baking, clean and chop your leeks, the white and tender green parts. Saute them in a little oil and until they are tender and just starting to brown. If you have any chard around, you can slice up a few leaves and throw that into the leeks while they are cooking. Season to taste with salt and thyme.

Cooked leeks

Cooked leeks

Beat the eggs and cream together and season with salt, pepper and the grated nutmeg.

Egg mixture

Egg mixture

When your crust comes out of the oven, turn the heat up to 400 degrees. Layer the leeks and the grated cheese in the crust and pour the egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle on any extra cheese.

Quiche, ready to bake.

Quiche, ready to bake.

Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 325 and continue to bake until the center of the quiche is set, about 20 minutes more. You can poke into the center with the tip of a knife to check on it.

Finished quiche

Oops! I forgot to take a picture before cutting into it!

Quiche is great any time of day but I especially like it for lunch with a simple salad dressed with lemon and olive oil. Though this is pretty rich, it is not unhealthful and winter is coming so a little fattening up is not a bad thing!

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Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl

Today my sweet Lola turned six. We had a family party this evening with my parents, my brother, and my grandma. For her birthday dinner Lola requested “chanterelles in a creamy sauce” on homemade pasta and “green beans from Costco, fried brown.” Do you know how happy that makes me? To have my daughter request chanterelles and homemade pasta for her birthday? I am so lucky. And I have to say, those green beans from Costco are really good too, especially when you cook them in butter and top them with lemon juice and good salt. The grownups at the party also had an arugula salad with Parmesan and toasted walnuts. I have only one terrible picture of the pasta that we had because I was rushing around and forgot to take pictures before we ate. Here is what was left at the end:

chanterelles in a creamy sauce on homemade pasta

chanterelles in a creamy sauce on homemade pasta

Her cake is one that I am not proud of. She wanted a yellow cake with chocolate frosting which is easy enough, but she wanted me to draw a chicken on it and she wanted the chicken to be saying “Happy Birthday Lola”. Our day didn’t go as planned, in fact my whole weekend didn’t go as planned, and I ended up with an undecorated cake at 5:00 and people were coming at 5:30. So I couldn’t take the time that I normally would to decorate the cake. And it showed. This next picture is a humiliation. I mean, I used to decorate cakes for a job! This looks like it was done by a second grader. But Lola has a good imagination and she didn’t mind. And we cut it up and ate it pretty quickly.

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake

Today was beautiful and sunny, just like the day Lola arrived. She was born in my parents living room just before ten o’clock in the evening and there were thirteen people waiting to greet her and love her. What a welcome she received.

I have never felt quite so cared for as I did in the week after she was born. When I think back on that time I remember the overwhelming love for my baby and my husband, a love that consumed me. But I also remember the love that was showered on our family by everyone around us. And the food, oh my. We ate so well. There was my mom’s Chinese chicken soup, and her tuna casserole (never have you eaten a tuna casserole like this, with fresh tuna, Italian egg noodles, lemon zest and herbs, oooh). There was tapioca pudding and homemade ravioli from Sue, blackberry pie from Sara, beef stew from Kathy, macaroni and cheese from Winoma, oatmeal cookies from Lauren… There was multi grain bread spread with triple cream Brie. There was apple and onion frittata. There was tomato salad from just about everyone (it was a good tomato year). There was food from people we hardly knew. For a few days after the birth I didn’t have much of an appetite, very rare for me, but I was still nourished and tempted into eating by all the carefully prepared food. And when my appetite came back with a vengeance I had the best of the best to choose from.

From the night she was born, Lola has been surrounded by good food. She knows how to appreciate the work that goes into a good meal. She loves that her birthday is during chanterelle season. She has the words and the knowledge to ask for exactly the meal that she wants to eat. What a gift that she has so many good cooks in her life. And what a gift she is to all of us.

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There aren’t words in this language to express my love of artichokes. At my wedding I carried a bouquet of dried purple artichokes. And while I wasn’t marrying the chokes, my love for them is eternal. It will always be true. It will never die. You may think I’m just being silly, but they have a treasured place in my heart. And their hearts have a treasured place in my mouth.

Artichokes

Artichokes

On Friday afternoon Robert and Lola and I drove to Sequim, about an hour and a half from here, to pick up a case of artichokes at Nash’s Organic Produce. I didn’t get any pictures of the farm store, but it is most charming, and all the people I have ever dealt with there have been kind, helpful, and passionate about what they do. Here on Bainbridge Island, we have access to beautiful produce, but it comes at a cost. This is an expensive place to live, and a very expensive place to farm so we pay through the nose for the food that we get here. Nash’s farm is much more earthy than anything we have on the island and the prices are more than reasonable. For a small farm it is pretty large, if that makes sense, and they are able to devote land to crops that take up a lot of room, like artichokes. Usually their chokes are ready at the beginning of the summer but this year they had new plants in that weren’t producing until now. I have been waiting and waiting for them!

Lola and 22 pounds of artichokes

Lola and 22 pounds of artichokes

Today I finally got around to dealing with all 22 pounds of chokey goodness. A few years ago, my aunt Chris and I roasted 2 cases of them with shallots and canned them with a slice of meyer lemon in each jar. They were beyond fabulous. This year I decided I wanted to do that again, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on a pressure canner (necessary for canning artichokes) so I decided to try the same thing but to freeze them instead of can them.

Lola hung out with me for most of the time that I was trimming artichokes this afternoon. She collected the fuzz from the insides and has grand plans for making winter coats for her chickens out of it. Who knew that we could clothe our chickens with vegetable trimmings? I learn something new everyday!

Most people have never eaten an artichoke any way but steamed and this is so sad. Not that a steamed artichoke is bad, it just doesn’t do the vegetable justice. Think about the difference between a steamed carrot and a roasted carrot. Or a steamed potato and a fried potato. You get the idea. I think that preparing artichokes is intimidating to many people and the reason they so often don’t get the treatment they deserve. I will admit that it is time consuming, but once you get the hang of it it is not difficult. I am here to walk you trough the process (with pictures), and I promise you it is worth it. So worth it.

Roasted Artichokes

Start with an artichoke:

Artichoke

Artichoke

The artichokes I got from Nash’s were on the small side, not babies, but not like the huge ones you get at the grocery store. You can use any size. Smaller ones need less trimming, but you need to prepare more of them. And the taste of a fully mature choke is different from a younger one. All are good.

First thing you need to do is to break off all the tough outer leaves. The trick is to do this without losing all the meat on the end. To do this you need to break off the leaves part way down, leaving the end still attached. The first layer or two will come off completely, and that is okay, but as you get into the artichoke a little ways, be sure to leave the end attached. In this picture, the leaf on the left was all the way broken off (incorrect), and the one on the right is broken off at the correct place:

Artichoke leaves

Artichoke leaves

When you get to a point where the leaves feel tender you can stop pulling them off. Chop off the top third, or thereabouts, leaving whatever is tender. Next, check out the stem of your artichoke. Fresh, young artichokes have delicious stems and you can just peel them and cook them along with everything else. As artichokes get more mature the stems get stringy and unpleasant. Use your judgment. Most of the stems I got were long and tender. Use a sharp knife and trim off all the stringy bits. Also trim around the base of the artichoke to take off any tough skin or bits of leaf left on there.

Preparing an artichoke

Preparing an artichoke

Now, cut your artichoke in half lengthwise. Most with have a furry center with some sharp purple spines around it. This is the “choke”. All that needs to come out. Take your knife and insert it just under the furry stuff and cut it out. This takes a little practice but you will get the hang of it. Smaller, less mature artichokes might not have a choke and then you don’t have to do anything to the inside.

Inside an artichoke

Inside an artichoke

Removing the choke

Removing the choke

Depending on the size of the artichokes, I cut them into quarters or smaller.

Most recipes you will read tell you to put your cut artichokes into lemon water so they won’t discolor. This is a total waste of time. They will discolor when you cook them anyway, and it doesn’t make any difference in the way they taste.

Now for the roasting. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. When you have a good sized pile of trimmed and rinsed artichokes, put them into a big shallow pan (cast iron is good). I like to add some sliced up shallots, but you don’t have to. Toss them with a bunch of olive oil and salt. A grind of pepper is good too.

Ready for roasting

Ready for roasting

Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until they are brown and caramelized. They are wonderful just on their own or you can toss them with pasta, put them in an omelet or frittata, or serve them on bruschetta for an appetizer. Let me know what you do with them.

I trimmed and roasted almost my entire case of artichokes in about two hours. So, yes, it does take a while, but if you are just fixing enough for one meal it’s not too overwhelming.

Roasted artichokes

Roasted artichokes


P.S. A word to the wise: Eating copious amounts of artichokes, in any form, has been known to cause some indigestion. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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Our local green figs are ripening on trees around the island. I don’t know what kind they are, but they are big and bright green with red flesh. Robert has been bringing me the occasional handful of figs when he comes home from work, ones that he has picked off this tree or that during the course of his day. Getting figs for a gift is so much better than getting flowers. I mean, flowers are great, and sometimes the most appropriate thing, but really, wouldn’t you rather have a fig? I would. Robert is no dummy, and he has realized that figs he can find to pick are not only a free gift, but one that I might cook up and share with him. Pretty slick. Luckily he has a good eye for fig trees that aren’t being fully appreciated so I think I will be well stocked for the next couple of weeks.

Green figs

Green figs

This afternoon my grandma brought me some figs, and I had a few on my counter that needed to get used up so we had our first real fig feast of the season. I hadn’t planned on having figs for dinner so my meal wasn’t very well thought out, but we enjoyed it anyway. I had the grill going to cook some salmon so I halved the figs and threw them on too. I didn’t even put anything on them and they cooked beautifully. All that natural sugar makes for really nice browning.

Grilled figs

Grilled figs

The juice that came out of the figs after they were cooked was so syrupy. I couldn’t believe how much sticky, tasty, pink goo came out of them. I put them on a salad of mixed greens with some goat cheese and toasted pecans. I tossed the greens with lemon juice, hazelnut oil and salt and pepper before putting all the goodies on top but if I had not been in a rush to get dinner on the table I think a balsamic vinaigrette made with really good balsamic and a little bit of shallot would’ve been nice.

Anyway, this is my salad:

Grilled fig salad with goat cheese and toasted pecans

Grilled fig salad with goat cheese and toasted pecans

I read a recipe in the ‘Chez Panisse Fruit‘ cookbook for a salad topped with seared quail and roasted fig dressing. I need to try something like that before the fig season is over – I LOVE quail, and figs, and I’m sure it’s a divine combination. I’ll keep you posted.

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One of the great crimes against humanity, along with slavery, genocide and religious persecution is the proliferation of bad pie crust. A warning to sensitive readers: what I am about to say may be upsetting to some. There are people in this world who have never had a good pie crust. There are people who think that one of the main ingredients in pie crust is Crisco! Worse yet, there are some who buy pie crust in the refrigerated section of the grocery store! Think of what this does to their friends and family. Think of the children! It makes me want to cry.

I haven’t been doing very much inspiring cooking in the last week. We have been super busy, and the weather has been hot, hot, hot so I haven’t felt like hanging out in the kitchen. But in the last few days I have found time to make two blueberry pies. In an attempt to end the suffering caused by Pillsbury pie crust I am going to post my recipe here. I will also post the recipe I used for the blueberry filling – it turned out quite tasty.

I use almost the same recipe for pie crust that I got from my mom when I was a little girl. It is the very first recipe I ever wrote down. Judging from my handwriting I must have been about nine or ten.

My first recipe

My first recipe

Pie Crust

this “recipe” makes 1 top or bottom crust and it is easily doubled

1 1/3 c. all purpose flour

1 stick of butter (I use salted butter for my crust)

pinch of salt

1/3 c. of cold water (or more. or less.)

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut your butter into little tiny cubes, about the size of peas and toss them gently with the flour. Your butter needs to be firm at this point. If for some reason it is not, refrigerate the whole bowl until it is. Start mushing the butter between your fingers to break it up. The whole idea is to incorporate the butter into the flour while still leaving little tiny hard pieces of butter. I tend to break the butter up a bit, then go through and smash the remaining lumps between my fingers to make what I think of as “butter flakes”. When you are satisfied that your butter is mixed in, but not too well, you can add the water. Now, this is the part where people can really screw up. You don’t want to mix the dough any more than necessary after you add the water. If your dough is too dry you will have to mix it more to get it to stick together, so you want to add enough. I sometimes add too much water though, and you don’t want to do that either because you end up with a sticky mess. You have to watch what you are doing. I cannot stress this enough. If you just follow the recipe without paying attention to your dough it will not behave the way you want it to. Some flour is dryer than others, sometimes your butter is more mixed in than other times, sometimes you didn’t measure that accurately. Whatever. All those things can be overcome if you pay attention while adding the water. Make sure the water is cold, I never use ice water, but if you want to it won’t hurt anything. Pour in about half the water you think you will need, then fluff everything up very gently with a fork. Pour more water onto spots that look dry and fluff again. When things look uniformly dampened, gently press the dough together into a ball. I like to flatten mine out into a disc, wrap it up and refrigerate it for an hour or so, but I don’t when I am in a hurry and you don’t need to either. When you roll it out, especially if it was in the fridge, give it a few firm squeezes to soften it up and show it who is boss. It is important that your dough always knows that you are the boss of it, and not the other way around. Move your dough with purpose and don’t be timid! Don’t be shy with the flour either when you are rolling, you can always brush some off at the end if you need to.

Those are all my pie crust secrets. Use butter, pay attention to your dough, tell it who is boss. Now go make pie! Make pie for the whole world!

Pie crust

Pie crust

P.S. Don’t ever bake pie in an aluminum pan if you can help it. Aluminum doesn’t conduct heat well and the bottom crust never gets brown. I like glass pie pans. I also have a copper one that works well.

The blueberry pie filling that I made was adapted from a recipe in the July/August 2008 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It uses a combination of tapioca and apple pectin to thicken it and I really like the final texture. I played around with the recipe a little bit, I just can’t help myself, but the basic technique came from the magazine.

Blueberry Pie

2 pie crusts, one for the top and one for the bottom

6 c. blueberries

1 large apple, peeled and grated

juice and zest from 1 lemon

3/4 c. sugar

2 T. tapioca, ground in a food processor or mortar and pestle (you don’t need to grind it, but it helps avoid lumps in your filling)

pinch of salt

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups of berries in a saucepan and smash them with a potato masher. Cook them over medium heat until they are broken down and reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the grated apple in a kitchen towel and wring it dry (wring it into a glass and drink it while you cook!) Put the apple into a bowl with the remaining filling ingredients. Add the cooked berries when they are done and stir to combine.

Pie filling

Pie filling

Roll out one of your pie crusts and place it in a 9 inch pie pan. Roll out your top crust before filling so that things don’t get soggy. You can cut little wholes in your top crust like this:

Pie crust with holes

Pie crust with holes

Or do any kind of top you feel like. Lattice is nice on a pie like this too.

Pie with lattice crust

Pie with lattice crust

Fill your bottom crust, moisten the edge with water, and carefully put your top crust over the whole thing. Trim off the edges of the dough leaving about an inch. Roll up the edges and crimp them. I like to sprinkle the top of the pie with cinnamon sugar before it goes in the oven but that is optional.

Polka dot pie

Polka dot pie

Bake the pie on the bottom rack of your oven. This is very important, the bottom rack. I baked mine for about 45 minutes in the 400 degree oven, but if you find that your pie is browning too much you can turn the heat down to 350. It may take a little longer. the pie is done when it bubbles in the center. Cool on a rack for at least four hours if you want it to slice neatly. Otherwise, just dive right in.

Blueberry Pie

Blueberry Pie


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IMG_2459I’m talking of course about the book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, not the TV show based on the books. My mom first read those books to me before I could read to myself. I continued to read the series over and over again throughout my childhood. I have to say that with the exception of my family and friends, those books had more impact on my life than just about anything else. They are beautifully written, engaging to people of any age, touching, poignant, and educational. The stories captured my imagination so fully that they became a real part of my life. I would talk to myself, narrating my daily activities like I myself was in a book. I imagined that my car was a wagon or that I had a heated flatiron at the foot of my bed on a cold night. I even made up a story about my toothbrush though there was never any mention of tooth brushing in the books. But I think the reason I loved them most is that so much of the life of a pioneer family was centered around food and providing for yourself. Life on the prairie in the late 1800’s was considered successful if you were able to survive and feed your family. Everyone worked hard every day in order to be able to eat the whole year long. With just the barest of tools and equipment, they had to raise, hunt and preserve enough food to feed a large hungry family all year long. The summer was a time of such bounty and people had to take advantage of every moment of it in order to save enough to see them through the winter.

I feel a tremendous sense of urgency in the summer. I don’t know if there is an evolutionary connection there from so many years of people hunting and gathering and living through the seasons or if it is just my personality. Maybe the books have something to do with it, I’m not sure. But part of me spends the summer frantic, unable to really enjoy the season because there is work to be done. There is so much good food, and no way to eat enough to last you through until next year. I think every day about January when a pint of nasty raspberries will cost $8. And what a strange luxury it is that we can even get raspberries in January at all. It makes me feel desperate. I am here in my kitchen now with a big box of beautiful berries and I feel all my instincts telling me that I have to BUY MORE, PICK MORE, PRESERVE MORE. My instincts talk to me in capital letters.

This is the time of year for hoarding. I am a berry picking, jam making machine (more on that coming soon), and I never feel that it is enough. I actually can’t imagine how anyone gets through life without a big chest freezer to fill with all of summer’s abundance (not that freezing is something the pioneers did, but I have the luxury of preserving that way and I fully appreciate it). I feels strange to say it, but I think of Laura Ingalls every time I process and tuck away something for winter. Every jar on my shelf or Ziplock bag in my freezer is a little piece of this warm, sweet, rich time of year. And I do feel rich when I have fresh blueberries, raspberries, peaches and cherries in my house all at the same time. I feel rich when I can go out and pick FOOD, REAL FOOD, for free on the side of the road. I feel rich when I add another gallon bag to the growing pile in the freezer. No amount of money can buy you summer in January (unless you go to the southern hemisphere I guess) but I can open up a bag of frozen peaches or a jar of brandied raspberries and I get to relive this time just for a moment.

I hadn’t read the ‘Little House’ books for many years until I started reading them to Lola. We have now been through the series four times and I’m getting pretty tired of them. But I love that Lola now narrates her own life in Laura Ingalls’ literary voice. I love that she plays ‘riding on the train’ just like my friend Sara and I did and that she wears a sunbonnet around town without feeling the least bit self conscious. And I love sharing summer’s bounty with her. She is learning how precious the gifts of the season are. I can tell her that we need to put something away for winter and she understands. I think she has good instincts too.

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